Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Tag: Steve Howe

Previewing Brothers in Arms
Part Eight: The Bullpen

Because we already used Clayton Kershaw’s birthday as an excuse to delve into Part 9 of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition (order now!), our series of previews ends on Part Eight: The Bullpen.

Niftily, the position of relief pitcher emerged with the Dodgers around the same time as the Dodger pitching tradition itself took root.

For nearly the entire history of the Dodgers before the end of World War II, when their pitching tradition was incubating, almost every pitcher they used in relief was a moonlighting starter. Only three players in Brooklyn history totaled more than 200 innings in relief before 1940, and two of those were swingmen — Watty Clark and Sherry Smith, who started more games than they relieved. The lone exception, Rube Ehrhardt, did mainly pitch out of the pen from 1926 to 1928, with modest effectiveness.

Starting with Hugh Casey in the 1940s, the game changed, and the Dodgers began transforming pitchers who weren’t cut out to be fulltime starters into pitchers who were primarily relievers, and later purely relievers. In the history of Dodger pitching, they play a supporting but key role, occasionally grabbing headlines—some heartbreaking, some thrilling.

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Baseball’s Yeti: The multi-inning save

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For images from Saturday, visit LA Photog Blog.

By Jon Weisman

Dodger closer Steve Howe got the save in the final game of the 1981 World Series, but it was a save you have to rub your eyes and gawk at today.

The star-crossed lefty pitched the last 3 2/3 innings of the Dodgers’ 9-2 Game 6 victory over the Yankees. He threw 54 pitches, three nights after throwing 33 pitches in the final three innings of the Dodgers’ 8-7 Game 4 victory.

How Howe came to my mind today was simple: The Dodgers have a bonafide reliever supreme in Kenley Jansen, but he pitches in an era when it’s rare to see a closer get even four outs. Jansen hasn’t gone past that barrier since he pitched the final two innings of a 14-inning Dodger victory nearly 15 months ago, on July 10, 2013. He has pitched two innings 11 times in his career — never more than that, and none was a save opportunity.

Howlin’ Howe pitched at least two innings 11 times in the 1981 regular season alone, twice going three innings. Sometimes, he was rested, but in a week from May 9-15, for example, he pitched in five games, including a pair of two-inning saves in a three-day span.

However, Howe didn’t spend the entire ’81 postseason rattling off three-inning blitzes. He pitched exactly an inning four times in the first two rounds of the playoffs, then allowed two runs in a third of an inning in Game 2 of the 1981 World Series. The Dodgers basically cut loose on Howe when they knew there were few tomorrows remaining in the season.

Holistically, Howe represents not one but two aspects of a bygone era. One, of course, is the utter inattention to pitch counts. But another that’s more subtle but also extremely relevant is this: Perfection was not expected.

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